New research shows that the Big Apple’s coronavirus outbreak fueled infections around the United States — as thousand of people traveled in and out of the city in late February and early March, according to a report.
A wave of infections swept from New York City to Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and as far away as the West Coast, before state and city leaders set restrictions to curb the outbreak, The New York Times reported Thursday.
“We now have enough data to feel pretty confident that New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country,” Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Times.
Geneticists analyzed more than 2,000 samples from infected people across the country, tracing a mutation of the virus back to New York.
The travel histories of patients and models of the outbreak by infectious disease experts also support the idea that New York fueled outbreaks in other states.
“New York acted as the Grand Central Station for this virus, with the opportunity to move from there in so many directions, to so many places,” David Engelthaler, head of the infectious disease branch of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona, told the paper.
Inaction by New York’s political leaders during crucial weeks in early March helped the virus get a head start in its spread, the researchers said.
And the city’s case count partly swelled due to the ongoing influx of international visitors, especially from Europe.
Most of the viruses tied to New York had a distinct genetic signature linking them to outbreaks in Europe, while those in Washington State were linked to China, scientists said.
By mid-March, when President Trump limited travel from Europe, the virus was already seeded around the nation, the research suggests.
“It means that we missed the boat early on, and the vast majority in this country is coming from domestic spread,” said Kristian Andersen, a professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research.
“I keep hearing that it’s somebody else’s fault. That’s not true. It’s not somebody else’s fault, it’s our own fault.”
The report found that a lack of testing hid the enormous growth of New York’s outbreak, meaning that for months officials acted on partial and faulty information.
A White House spokesman said Trump acted quickly, restricting flights from China and then blocking most travel from Europe more than a month later on March 13 — “an action he took decisively without delay to save lives while Democrats and the media criticized him and the global health community still did not fully comprehend the level of transmission or spread.”